Category Archives: Journalling

Lost in Time: Thoughts on Photography, Time, and Us

It’s the start of a hot spring day here in Bulgaria, my way-station of the month. Work is chaos right now, and I took a break this morning, a fluke. About to close the Netflix tab, I saw a clip of the movie Kodachrome, starring Ed Harris, a long-time favourite.

And just like that, I’m falling down memory lane. “Kodachrome”? I couldn’t resist.

In college, I took journalism and photojournalism during the days of film processing with chemicals and darkrooms. My skills were proficient enough that I was hired to be a photolab staffer to supervise other students needing a hand in the dark. For $10.85 an hour, a king’s ransom in the day, I helped others with dodging, burning, processing, drying.

This was my front yard for two years in Victoria, BC, Canada. Kinda I loved living there.

That was the first year of my college program, but the second time in my educational career that I was the last class in one campus before the school transferred to a new, expensive building. The first was high school, where we were the last class in the old senior high, built in the ‘30s, and the next year, my graduation year, the first class in the shiny new 1990 building, with the reek of off-gassing carpet glue.

The next year was the flipside to that. I attended community college in an old warehouse row in the industrial district. It was so run down some areas were considered unsafe. In photojournalism, the darkroom work happened in a decrepit lab. Blackcloth was taped to ceiling tiles to prevent light seepage destroying our photography work. The lab, to put it succinctly, was a shithole. Bad air circulation meant the acrid sulphur of developer and fixer would burn the lungs by the end of a long day. But, still, a night lost to the photo lab was magic for me. A shitty push-button tape player bleeding music, dodging photos. Hours got devoted to creating magic on a blank page through light and chemistry.

The next year, we moved to a new multi-million-dollar campus with a high-tech lab. The old lab, only the freaks like me would see daylight bleed away as time slipped through our hands with hours on end of playing with imagery. In the high-tech new lab, where no blackcloth was needed on the ceiling and where fans whisked the carcinogenic air away, one had to book a couple weeks in advance for time on the fancy new enlargers. There was no slack for those too distracted to clear out by the time the next eager photog ambled in to process and print their rolls. It was a tense and greedy place where the photojournalism kids had stand-offs with the new fancy students in the just-launched Fine Arts and Mixed Media programs.

By then, I’d gotten a weekend job halfway between home and school, printing photos in a Kodak lab. It made me picky about film brands. Fuji was great on nature. Better blues and greens. Kodak was fantastic in portraiture, capitalizing on warmth. Lesser-known Agfa could be great at either but needed a skilled printing hand to correct for a predilection toward cyan tones. I stayed on there for two years, graduating and segueing into a full-time printing gig with the shop.

My boss was a narcissist who thought the world owed him everything. He felt like the big shot in town because his shop was the go-to with many pros. But his “nice guy” act was just that. When the shop was closed, he was demanding and cruel. When I got injured in my second year of printing in his lab, he thought I was lying and launched a complaint against the Worker’s Compensation Board, since I was injured on the job and he was penalized during my compensation pay. But dude caused it by leaving a stapler on the ground, which I’d later step on, rolling my foot and shredding every muscle in my ankle, putting me on crutches for nearly two months.

I had doctors on my side. He lost. I won. But I knew I never wanted to work for him again.

Between that and being trapped at home, I began looking for an escape from my life. See, I couldn’t even drive my car without hurting my foot, so I was stuck in my rural home. None of my city friends took the time of day to visit me. I was 21 and felt dead to the world.

Feeling sorry for myself, I considered leaving Vancouver. Within a week, I was at the library, sending letters to every potential employer in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. The north. The land time forgot.

The resumes went out end of day Tuesday. Friday morning, I had a call. Three days later, the manager flew down for a conference in Vancouver. Three weeks later, I drove 30 hours north, through autumnal British Columbia, got room and board in the Yukon, and became manager of a photography lab.

Once upon a time, I lived in the Yukon, and my big brother came for a visit.

I had hoped it would be the start of a life of adventure and photography. But “life”? Not so much. A year? Yes.

A year, then adventure would come to a halt.

Strangled by bad finances and the high northern cost of living, I schlepped back to Vancouver, got involved with an ex, fell into old routines, and began a decade and a half of treading water while life happened to me, rather than me happening on life.

I managed another Kodak lab, but something was already changing in 1996 – the internet had been born and photography was beginning to go digital. My lab, after nearly two years, announced it was closing. Within a decade, most labs would hear their death knell ring.

Time rolls on and everything ends for some other beginning.

This fall will be the third anniversary of me going all-in on the adventurous life I once hoped I was starting. Almost 24 years to the week I drove north, and I’ll be 45, instead of 21. Back then, my life was ahead of me. These days, I’m probably half-way through life. Maybe more. Who knows, right?

And then I went nomad.

After schlepping back to Vancouver, I slowly lost most of who I was. Feeling beat down and without options, in 2012, I decided to leave once again, moving to Victoria, on Vancouver Island. Three years later, I went nomad, which has been a journey back to who I was, and a reckoning of who I’m becoming, as I travel the world.

But I think we all lose ourselves along the way in life.

Sometimes, I think our lives become a whirlpool. Round and round it goes. Spinning, uncontrolled. We get caught in current and can’t get out. It was like that, for me.

Maybe it still is, sometimes. Maybe that’s just adulthood. Maybe that’s why I played such a desperation move in going nomad.

People ask me why I went on the lam. Like there’s some easy reason. “To travel,” that’s the easy answer. “Because I can,” that’s the other.

Time, though. That’s the complicated answer. Too little of it. Too much of it. Stopping it, wasting it, loving it. Time.

But I think sometimes, if you stop, sit, listen to the wind, stare at the world around you, you can’t help but witness time flitting past you, slipping away, falling into the void. Time stops for none of us. We know this. I’m not sure, though, that we understand it. We take it for granted.

I know I did. I do. It’s a failing and a habit, both human nature and a default setting.

There I was, sitting on the sidelines of life – injured back, unhealthy, living removed from everyone I cared about in my little island home, watching life happen through a picture window to the street outside, and online.

All the while, I seemed to be losing my grasp on what world existed. In Europe, right-wing politics and Nazi fervour seemed to be stoking fires in small pockets. At home, we were more divisive than we’d ever been in my lifetime. Around the globe, the environment was out of control. Tipping points were happening in the march toward climate change, points from which some experts said we couldn’t claw our way back.

Portugal’s Porto Ribeira seems stopped in time.

Age seems to be a curse, as we grow older. It takes age to show us that time is a gift, that experiences – good and bad – are precious. Time is a filter through which we see our lives, through which we learn and grow and move forward.

Urgency and fear, regret and loss, those are the sorts of emotions that have landed me here in this sleepy Bulgarian neighbourhood.  They’re emotions that clutch onto us as we age. They’re cumulative emotions, compiling steeper as every year passes.

There’s nothing wrong with being moved by such emotions, as long as there’s hope and optimism somewhere down the road too. Of course there are those; one doesn’t pack everything they own in a bag without a little hope and optimism tucked away.

Kodachrome, the film that tripped me down memory lane, has Ed Harris as a celebrated photographer, speaking to some peers, about what it is that drives them to be photographers. Harris says…

“We’re all so frightened by time, the way it moves on and the way things disappear. That’s why we’re photographers. We’re preservationists by nature. We take pictures to stop time, to commit moments to eternity. Human nature made tangible.”

In a way, perhaps that’s why I’m travelling too. The tangibility of who and what we are.

The other day I walked through Old Town Plovdiv and there, just without warning, without signs, was this graveyard of Roman ruins. Toppled, fallen, broken columns, all carved and weathered for the better part of 2,000 years, built in the 2nd century under Emperor Hadrian, once a gate to the city, a throughway on the Silk Road into Europe, en route to Rome.

It stopped me in my tracks. It’s one thing to see ruins that are celebrated – fenced in, paid admission for, documented, touted. But it’s quite another to happen upon the wreckage of time, a reminder of once-great societies that now lie as detritus on a roadside. Just… there. Beaten and eaten by the winds and weather of centuries past.

Ruins by the roadside in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

On the one hand, this leaves me with a sense that nothing I do matters, because it all slips away anyhow. When you look at the care and work that went into creating these columns that once were palatial but now lie fragmented and forgotten, it’s easy to dismiss today’s pressures and stresses as silly obligations we’ve brought upon ourselves. We deem things as urgent, unmissable, unneglectable, but the reality is, it just doesn’t matter. It doesn’t.

Delusions of grandeur seem born of empires. Doesn’t matter how great they become, eventually they’re covered by the sands of time and forgotten, or cited as a curiosity from an age long gone.

But on the other hand, there’s something left of them. Here we are, 2,000 years on, marvelling at the traces they’ve left, the lives they lived, the accomplishments they made. What will remain of me? What legacy will I have left? A hundred years from now, as someone who will never have children, will anyone remember my name? Or will I have blown away on the winds of time too? I like to think I’ve changed a person or two in my lifetime. I like to believe the Butterfly Effect, that I’m a cascading ripple on the pond of life.

In the film Ed Harris scoffs at digital photography. He dismisses our society as taking more photographs than ever but leaving no record of them. We’re making “digital dust,” he says.

Perhaps that’s a reflection of our society.

We are the creators of the  “disposable” society. Single-use. Never before in history has it occurred to people that a product’s virtue is that it can only be used once. What have we become? What a strange time.

As I walk through history, through streets cobbled centuries ago, this travel life of mine leaves me caught between worlds. In one world, I panic over the legacies I dream of leaving, and in the other I realize none of it matters… that we’re nothing but memories on the wind.

So I live life two ways. Sometimes, I try to suck the marrow from daily life, enjoying as much as I can, worried that if I sleep, I’ll miss everything that matters.

Other days, I’m blissfully content that nothing matters more than doing nothing and watching the world happen. Those days, I enjoy being an observer in a world that doesn’t need me and won’t remember me when I’m gone.

Sometimes, that’s a sad thought. Other times, it’s downright freeing.

Luckily, life is never absolute. We can be this way, then that. Time may be a construct, but as sure as the sun crosses the sky, the time, like daylight, falls away from us. As your time slips away today, ask yourself if you’re using it as best you can. Not compared to others, not compared to what’s expected of you. Are you using time in a way you enjoy? Maybe that’s seated on a park bench. Maybe it’s staring at a coffee as the sun beats down on you and people brush past in their obligated lives.

Maybe, like me, it’s typing as the day’s heat builds and fatigue kicks in, before, finally, the sofa beckons me for nap time. When I’m dust on the wind, I don’t think it’ll matter that I took a nap at 5:46pm on April 26th, 2018. Do you?

A Roasted Chicken Kinda Day

Some days — grey-sky, nothin’-doin’ kinda Sundays (or stat Mondays) — are made for puttering around the home, listening to some podcasts, cleaning, cooking. And those are the days made for roasting chicken. Thank you, cosmos.

Got me a fatty of a bird I’m gonna roast up soon. Tuck some sundried tomato & basil butter under the skin, roast it on a bed of celery, carrots, leek, and all kinda onions. Puree most of ‘em after for the most veggie-licious gravy ever. That, a little stock, some pretentious jelly for flavour. Boom. So good.

I will miss days like this when I’m abroad, but I know I’ll also do an amazing job of making a “new version” of this. I picture myself on a rainstormy day finding a way to make comfort food that smacks of home. I’m bringing maple syrup with me, bitches. The Quebec stuff. Real deal. Oh, yeah.

Food is an emotional thing. Just like roasted chicken, things like Yorkshire pudding evoke my childhood. Pouding chomeur takes me right back to being 8 and standing on a chair to look in the oven at the carmelly-mapley Quebecois version of a sticky toffee pudding baking on Sunday nights.

I can’t buy that memory anywhere else. Same thing with the roasted chickens, stews, breads, all those smells I remember from my childhood kitchen. My mom and dad weren’t the BEST cooks, but they sure put their effort into it and we ate pretty well. And all the muffins you could dream of.

Here’s a story for you. Best.

We went away for a day when we were kids, only to come home and find a ladder against the left-open living room window. The grand theft item? Muffins my mom had made. A couple of the neighbour kids came in, helped themselves. Couple glasses used for milk left on the counter was the big evidence. AHA! My first Sherlockian encounter.

It was the neighbours in the kitchen with a butter knife!

Chicken with all the fats.

Chicken with all the fats.

T & D, trouble-making brothers up the block, were sent over to meekly apologize. I wouldn’t be surprised if they went home with muffins in-hand post-apology too. It was that kind of a neighbourhood.

I’m hoping I luck into reasonably well-stocked kitchens. I’m tempted to bring a silicone muffin tin with me on my travels. (I already have the meat thermometer I’m bringing!) I mean, muffins are serious and there ain’t a storebought muffin in the world I think holds up to a solid home-baked one. Emotional food, indeed.

That will be one of the great aspects to my travels, for me anyhow, is that I want to learn how to do all the cookin’ of what I’m eatin’. I want to be pushy and friendly and get myself invited to family get-togethers. How cool would that be? Politely elbow my way into the kitchen. Watch how it gets done.

And I will just die if I get to go to those big meat-a-paloozas. Grill pits, underground fire pits, brick ovens, over an open flame. Whatever, man. If it involves primal meat cooking in the great outdoors, I will find a way to get there. I will need to connect with serious foodies in every town and not take no for an answer.

I can do this!

But for now, I’m capping this grey day with a roasted bird. It’ll be nice salads and other treats, all week. I’m enjoying cooking these days.

Enjoy the home pleasures while I can, right?

By the way, I’ve got the domain reserved for what will be my travel blog. You can go ahead and bookmark it, and it’ll take you here in the maintime. It’s called The Full Nomad.

“Going full nomad” is gonna be a “thing.” Mark my words!

Dark & Beautiful: The Brain & Creativity

brainsbrainsbrainsThe human brain is a marvelous and terrifying thing.

I once heard that science knows as little about the deep sea as it does the human brain. The last frontiers. Is that true? Really, the only thing that matters is that I can buy its truthiness. Science can’t even really explain why some PMS makes me want to club a baby seal, but other times I’m fine. Hello?

Yesterday, for instance, I managed to be productive and focused, but inside I was terribly, terribly depressed and angry.

Fortunately, logically, I knew it was just hormones and weather. I realized there wasn’t an actual reason I should be either depressed OR angry, and I knew where I was in my cycle. The way I was feeling wasn’t rooted in reality, and I understood that, come morning, odds were highly likely the mood would vanish.

And poof, just like that, it’s gone. Today I’m hopeful, creative, charged, and just bought the domain name for the creative and existential project to consume the next half decade of my life. If that’s not optimistic, even at the low, low price of $8.99 per year, I don’t know what is.

Perspective

I mean, how many people have the opportunity to point at Planet Earth and go “I want that,” then set into motion the mechanics of taking on the whole wide world for five years with no roots, anywhere, no limits? One in 100,000? One in a million? Lucky, indeed.

It’s knuckle-cracking elbow-greasing time when it comes to this little going-Full-Nomad project of mine. A friend has offered to help me set up my blog. I’ve decided not to host that content here on The Cunt. This place has been great for me, and I’ll likely still use it to unleash my wrath and rail at the gods from time to time, but I’m in a different place now. I’m a different person now. I need a new creative home.

Despite my older, mellower ways, it’s pretty safe to say I’ll never be Mary Poppins. Nor would I want to be. I like my wrath and fury, my joy and faith. I like the mix of pathos that swirls in my brain. My yin to my yang is right there. I may tilt and pivot, vacillating from seeming extremes, but I’m usually able to hold onto a small measure of awareness that, whatever the tempest, life is generally a smooth-sailing place for me. Or at least a place I manage to navigate without peril.

Storms are Genesis

Chimp_Brain_in_a_jarEarlier, I saw a quote from Kurt Vonnegut about how it’s impossible to be a serious writer if you don’t suffer depression. I’m sure if he were to expound, he might have said something like it’s the variations of emotional themes which make great writers what they are.

They’ve loved, they’ve lost, they’ve lived to tell another tale.

Throughout history, writers have been the teller of the tales. They’ve kept the legends alive, passed the records of humanity from one generation to another. It wasn’t until humans began to write that we really had a record of not only the social structure but the emotional worlds in ages long past.

Writers record the human condition. We try to grasp what happens around us, record how it affects us, and inspire the next step. Today, different mediums allow for writing/recording/inspiring to happen visually, in audio, and of course on the page/stage/screen.

But all of it starts in the brain, when someone sees something and has a thing or two to say about it. Poof! A synapse fires, a thought is born, a project springs forth.

That inspiration and the ability to create something of where there was nothing, it blows my fucking mind.

The human brain is a marvellous and terrifying place, indeed.

The Psyche and the Fulcrum

Surviving nearly a year of dark, fearful deep depression baffles me. Survival didn’t seem an option then. I’m grateful my forays to bleakness are seldom now, rare even, and I’ve the faculties to buckle up and hang on until it’s over, which is never more than a day or two.

I have no illusions. Once I’m gone “Full Nomad,” there’ll be days where I find myself fatigued and homesick, wishing I had a bed all mine. But it’s days like today after I’ve told myself “It’ll be better tomorrow,” and I wake up, and it really is better, that convince me I’ve got this. I’ll have brief downs and see myself through them.

Done and Done

That’s another funny thing about the brain. The more we realize and act upon our strength, the more our brains can sell us on our toughness when needing a pep-talk down the road.

It’s fantastic we’re as resilient as we are. One of the greatest gifts ever given is adversity. It never feels that way at the time, but no matter what the loss or the price is, a healthy person will become better, stronger, more resilient as a result. I know I’m grateful to have proven already I’m “tough enough.”

Like the saying says, we don’t know how strong we are until we have to be strong.

That part is inspiring and comforting. What’s terrifying is the brain’s ability to shut out all hope and languish in darkness. Science needs to unlock mental illness. I’m glad it’s getting more attention.

And Now, More Mysterious Than Ever Before!

Strength and resilience aside, the flipside to the possibility of that terrifying darkness is the jaw-dropping experience of creation. Some brains conceive rocketships to the stars, incredible food combinations, cures for disease, life-changing books, or soul-charging songs. Poof! Magic. Inspiration, creation. And so the creative cycle continues.

With every new experience, a new creative door might open. I can’t begin to imagine what seeing the world and blowing my perception wide-open will do for my brain. What will I create? What will I learn? What will I experience? How will it influence my thoughts for the rest of my life? My creativity? How much will it increase my resilience?

I’ve already lived through incredible extremes of the human brain. Or like to think I have. In less than eight months, I start the project that I hope will shake me to my foundations and awaken me from my white middle-class life, and change my world-view for the rest of my days.

Waiting will be a bitch. Luckily, Trusty Brain shows me positives in proceeding slow and studiously, while laying proper groundwork for a long, successful journey.

Way to go, brain.

Brains

Pondering the Pineapple Express

The “Pineapple Express” isn’t just a stoner movie that’ll have you hitting the Cheetos, it’s a weather phenomenon that instills dread in the hearts of West Coasters.

It’s days of unseasonal warm weather coupled with dreary heavy clouds, battering rains, and sometimes winds. It’s not like monsoons in the tropics, it’s just medium-to-heavy rain that seems endless, for days. With the humidity between 90-100%, it feels like you’re walking around in a wet paperbag for three to six days straight.

There’s some localized weather phenomena that affects where I am, Victoria, BC, where “the shadow of Mount Rainier” is said to save us from about 50% of the rain that falls in Vancouver. We might be just across the strait, less than 100km from Vancouver, BC, but they’re a rainforest, and downtown Victoria ain’t. Half the rain, baby.

Between the rain, back in 2013 on Victoria's Clover Point.

Between the rain, back in 2013 on Victoria’s Clover Point.

But you wouldn’t know it on days like these. Not because of all the rain, but because all the clouds sock us in and that moisture’s still THERE, it’s just holding out to put out for Vancouver. I guess Victoria doesn’t drive a flash enough car to woo the likes of this rain.

Still, like a school boy on a hot date, those clouds are fit to explode, and I feel the pressure as it slowly rolls overtop this island, starting its dump further up the coast as it lays into Vancouver.

It pounds behind my eyes and the back of my head. I can even feel the little shifts. Clouds clear in a patch above me momentarily, and so will my head. Rain resumes, so does the foggy brain. It’s baffling.

They call these “low-pressure fronts.” It’s evident even in the people. We trudge and grumble. There’s a “rainy-day hunch,” too. We don’t even know we’re doing it — it just happens when walking down the street in heavy rain. It’s a forward slouch with a hunching of the shoulders, and it effectively ensures more like a 60-40 rain-split, where your back gets most of the wetting action.

‘Cept those days where you’re walking into a headwind and then you’re just screwed, bro. Done. Those are the days you get rain-soaked straight up to mid-thigh. God help you if you’re not wearing water-resistant clothing, or better yet, Goretex. I’m not the only former Vancouverite who’s had 2-3 layers of clothes all get soaked under a “rainproof” jacket on the very bad, no good, wrong rain day.

One of THOSE days. I dared to shoot photos in the wind and rain. Luckily *my* gear worked. But 95km winds will give you THIS face.

One of THOSE days. I dared to shoot photos in the wind and rain. Luckily *my* gear worked. But 95km winds will give you THIS face.

We grumble and whine and moan, but this rain becomes a part of us. Day after day it grows prohibitive and inconvenient, not to mention mind-numbing and depressing, but the odd heavy rain becomes something we almost cannot live without.

I loved to the Yukon in 1994 and spent the year living in Whitehorse. When you think “Yukon,” you think endless snow, so naturally it must get quite a bit of moisture, right? But you’d be wrong. It’s incredibly dry. It snows in October, then pretty much just stays dry and sunny and cold until April, when it rains a couple times and the snow finally melts.

I’d moved there in October, after Vancouver’d had a three-month dry spell. By the time I saw and smelled rain again, it was the following April and I hadn’t seen rain in 10 months. I cried, I was so happy to see it.

So today as the rain pounds and batters the streets, and I sit with all my windows open while enjoying the unseasonal warmth, I’m loathing the dreariness despite enjoying its idle, and dreaming of when I will live in a place with more sun than rain in winter, and wondering if I might miss these Pineapple Expresses one day.

After all, there’s a catharsis that comes with rain. Like if it rains any harder it’ll even wash away my sins. It’s soul-soothing and permissive. My inner-Catholic is a big fan of rain and all its symbolic cleanliness.

I feel I’ll be betraying all my lineage by escaping this climate. From the Barra Islands Camerons in the Outer Hebrides to my Viking MacNeills, Irish Monks, and my Breton line, they’re all foul-weathered people. They overcame the challenges of the land, sea, and skies, and thrived in it.

I have the luxury of failing them all and wimping out. City-folk. Pah!

As a result, I’ll be letting the rain dictate my weekend. Food, cleaning, writing, sloth, Netflix, drinking, reclusion. All fine and glorious things. All behind the rain-streaked windows, wearing comfy jammies and sporting bedhead.

No shame, man. No shame.

Letting Go So I Can Move On

Today is the day I allow my Victoria blog domain to die. Now it’s just another lowly wordpress.com site.

Writing-wise, it was like a bad pair of jeans. Sure, it gave me something to write about, but it would always feel wrong.

Despite that, Victoria has been where I’ve reconnected with writing after losing my inspiration for nearly five years. I’ve tried on many genres of writing while here — for money and otherwise.

With both paid and unpaid writing, I now feel that life is too precious to spend it earning money doing things I don’t love, and even less worth it when money ain’t involved. I haven’t figured out the secret to only getting paid to do what I love yet, but I’m getting closer. I can feel it.

Girl checks out the sunset on Victoria's Dallas Road. By me. Some rights reserved.

Girl checks out the sunset on Victoria’s Dallas Road. By me. Some rights reserved.

I was never gonna be the Victoria-it-place girl. I’m glad the one blog post on about lepers got a lot of recognition and was reprinted in the Huffington Post, but the rest of the blog, I found it hard to give a shit about it.

Learning that it’s the genre and type of writing that was bumming me out is a big thing. It’s the opposite of inspiration, that. Other people can write about food joints and place trends, but it ain’t me.

I’m now learning the writing I want to do can’t be done in one spot. It’s like an REM song — I can’t get there from here.

I can’t explain it to you, but you’ll know it when you see it.

I shot this on day five of living in Victoria. March, 2012. Sunset at Victoria's Ogden Point Breakwater. I will miss this place and its special feeling after I'm gone.

I shot this on day five of living in Victoria. March, 2012. Sunset at Victoria’s Ogden Point Breakwater. I will miss this place and its special feeling after I’m gone.

In future adventures in writing, I see more observational, contemplative work. That’s my jazz. I also want to try fiction again, which I’ve only written for classes before, but that I may have a knack for. After all, inside my brain is a dark and bizarre world at times. I’ve begun cobbling out the plot for an unreliable memoir of a serial killer, for instance.

I’m sure there are those who’ll scoff at the notion that I can know what my “missing piece” is and where I’ll find it, but there aren’t a lot of times in our lives when we have an unmistakable pull telling us where to go, what to do. For those of us lucky enough to decipher that code, there’s this weird undercurrent of certainty that battles the fear of change.

I may be terrified of my five-year world-travel plan, in some ways, but I’ve never had more certainty that a risk I was taking is the right one. Believe me, I’ve thought of all the freaky what-ifs, but the core of certainty remains.

“Certainty” is an iffy word for it, but I can’t find a better one.

It’s like that scene in Donnie Darko where Donnie sees that strange orb of pre-destiny extending from other folks’ torsos, in that split moment before they commit to a direction or action, affirming for Darko Dr. Roberta Sparrow’s theories on time travel.

The global nomad thing just feels that way for me and my writing. What I seek, it’s out there. It feels almost like I’ve accidentally mislaid a piece of my soul and need to go retrieve it.

I remember when I was younger I used to think relentless wanderers were people running away or seeking something. I know it’s more complicated now. Today, I feel like some of those wanderers are plugged into a bigger picture, they’re not running from anything — they’re embracing everything.  “Wherever you go, there you are.”

Abroad, writing will become a kind of clearinghouse for me. I will absorb, process, and relate everything I’m experiencing in the moment. Like French cinema, I may not get it when I’m in the theatre, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy the imagery and I’ll appreciate it more in the days to come.

I look forward to trying all kinds of writing exercises, seeing what fits and what doesn’t. Same with cultures, landscapes, and cuisines.

So today I allow one more thing to fall away from me, a passing of my time here in Victoria. In ways that will remain known only by me, that blog was part of how I came to realize my nebulous dream of being a global nomad was absolutely doable. It was how I learned my limits, that living on, and writing about, life on one island was not gonna be enough for me.

Milestones are cool. For me, this is a good one. There’ll always be the WordPress.com version of the blog anyhow.

And so the slow goodbye to Van Isle begins for me today.

I Fought Depression & Won. I Was Lucky.

It’s #BellLetsTalk day and while I hate giving free advertising to a company, it’s a day that does inspire a lot of conversation, and for that reason I feel obligated to say my part.

My feeling “obligated” to share my mental illness battles stems from being someone who’s been through both biological and situational depressions and who knows first-hand how hard it is to climb out of that, but that it’s possible (for some).

These days, I still get angry at people who suggest depression is a matter of discipline and keeping your appointments. “Oh, do X, Y, Z, and talk about crap with a professional, and you’ll be tickety-boo.” Right. As if.

Sunset in a cemetery.

Sunset in a cemetery. By Me.

Sometimes There’s A Reason

I know now, from this early-greying side of 40, that many of my mental issues probably stem from the fact that I had four concussions in the decade prior to a traumatic brain injury. I don’t know that I’ll ever walk away from anxiety and mood-swings completely. Maybe that’s a part of me now. It’s been 11 years since my head injury, but I’ve had leg bruises take 6 months to heal, so who knows about the brain, right?

I do know that I’ve overcome the worst of it. It’s like finding your legs at sea –a new normal can be found where one realizes their ups/downs and the triggers thereof.

Sayings like “knowing is half the battle” become truisms for a reason. Knowledge changes everything, particularly in the mental health battle.

It was life-changing the day I learned that some 80% of TBI sufferers go on to experience serious depressions in the decade following their traumatic brain injury. It really was life-changing, on a #BellLetsTalk day, no less. Two years ago.

In Good Will Hunting, here’s a scene where Matt Damon keeps getting told by Robin Williams that “it’s not your fault,” and Damon doesn’t get it until he “gets it,” and then he breaks down in tears.

This wasn’t quite like that, but finding out there was probably a physical cause for how I got so very fucked up, it was so empowering and disarming. It wasn’t my fault. I was “injured.” Until then, I didn’t realize how much I had always blamed myself for my depression.

But it really isn’t my fault. It isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s not our fault that science can’t explain these things better, or that we’re only really now studying the brain and making advances.

What if There’s Always Been a Cause?

I’ve seen news recently too where medical experts are beginning to wonder if there can be a bacterial cause or infectious disease behind the growing spectre of depression. There is evidence that this is potentially true. What if it’s a “bug” you caught as a kid that’s made you depressed all your life? What if it really can be “cured”? This is an amazing idea.

It’s also a dangerous one to latch onto. Depression is such an insidious beast that easy antidotes are a cruel tease. False hope can literally be a killer.

For me, I know now to expect lethargy, anxiety, depression, overeating, overdrinking, and every other negative under the sun when I’m enduring the short days of a Canadian winter. I’m one of the 20% for whom “SAD” could be a very serious affliction. So much so that my heart sings at the idea of being a nomad next winter and taking off to the south of Spain in January. Oh, yes. Positively giddy concept, that.

The Road Back

Reprieve will always excite me, even if it’s just me running away to a Spanish winter.

I’ve been through hell and back on the inside of my brain. It’s just a thing. That’s depression for you. For those of us who’ve come through to the other side, life is a surreal and powerful experience. Sometimes overcoming depression can be as simple as a decision, but those are the lucky and the few who enjoy that choice.

I often have moments when I look around the world and know it’s largely the same when I’m happy as when I’m depressed, and I’m all too aware of just how dramatically differently your brain can process things, and sometimes by fluke of chemistry or just seasonal weather. It’s astonishing once you see both sides.

For most, the road back from depression is an inexplicably personal journey, one that cannot be replicated, faked, or mass produced. For most, there is no easy answer, no one-size-fits-all trick. For most, it is a grueling, tiresome, troubling, exhausting journey where two steps forward come with one step back, but eventually, if lucky, they succeed.

Happiness, it turns out, is a process of elimination in which one of many factors is simply luck.

And if folks don’t succeed on their “road back,” they sometimes end up like Robin Williams, at the wrong end of a rope.

That’s depression for you.

Use Your Words

Whatever it is we don’t understand about the brain and its chemistry, the one thing we do know is that, for some baffling reason, just using your words, opening your mouth, and saying something to someone, anyone, can sometimes be the thing that saves your life.

It saved mine in August, 2006 when I called a psychiatrist and said I was scared for what I might do to myself that day. Because I was terrified of the “what if” that afternoon.

Since then, I’ve never again felt that kind of hopelessness. Never again. Never, really.

And I think that’s a potential outcome for many people who today might feel there is no future or hope. Maybe they just need to open up and admit they’ve never been lower than now, to tell someone, anyone, and start that journey. Maybe that’s all it will require.

“Hey, it’s a start” has never had as much potential as it does when you put a name to the unthinkable beast that’s been keeping you down.

Trust me. Knowing really is half the battle. Put a name to your beast. Then get your fight on. You can do this. I did.